Profiling the Night Marauder

This post was written by contributor Cooper Lawson (MC’21). The post was edited by N. Locklin.

In the 1920s, there lived a monster that brought terror to Knox and Blount Counties at night. This criminal was blamed for a long list of break-ins, sexual assaults, physical assaults, attempted homicides, and homicides that have left his victims silent forever. However, from the list of the dead and the statements of the survivors and witnesses of the crimes, one can create a criminal profile that will help answer the question: what kind of person was the Night Marauder and why did he do what he did? The case remains unsolved, and it has haunted the investigators, the courts, and the inhabitants of the two counties for over a century. In this essay, investigative practices of the era will be compared to those of the modern day as the details from this case are revisited again a century after the Night Marauder vanished from east Tennessee.

The Knox County and Blount County Sheriff’s departments saw a pattern in the crimes that clued them in to the fact that these were serial crimes rather than unrelated ones. The perpetrator always entered the home in the middle of the night armed with a flashlight (to blind his victims) and a nickel-plated revolver. His victims were chosen due to the lack of electricity in their homes so that they could not see/identify him in the dark. He targeted women for sexual purposes, maintaining control using his gun and verbal threats.

Criminal profiling has evolved a lot in the past century, but the basic instincts of law enforcement and strategies that they employ in serial crime investigations have largely stayed the same. Investigators approached this case using inductive reasoning. This means that until they caught the attacker in the act or found conclusive evidence of his guilt, they had to pursue a case based on supporting reasons and premises that lead to a likely conclusion rather than a certainty. Officers matched crimes that included the same signature behaviors to suspects who had criminal histories that were similar to the style and motive of this series of crimes. The Marauder was familiar with the areas where the crimes were being committed, which makes it likely he was local. Law enforcement used the concept of “distance decay” to explain that someone with urges such as these would not want to travel very far to fulfill them. It is also important to note that the perpetrator is classified as a Marauder, meaning he specifically commits his crimes within a certain radius of where he lives and works.

After the conviction and execution of Maurice Mays, there would be two more men charged with the crimes before the Marauder attacks ended in 1926. The only thing missing in each case was conclusive evidence generated by deductive, rather than inductive reasoning. By modern standards, this would require forensic evidence or security footage that could prove the identity of the perpetrator. However, by standards of the era, the best they could do was to get multiple positive identifiers, such as physical descriptions and voice identifications that matched potential suspects. This was made impossible due to the Marauder’s consistent use of a blinding flashlight and the cover of darkness to hide his identity. Many victims claimed that they could identify the perpetrator’s voice, but for now, there is no evidence to tell us that they did. When suspects were brought to trial, the inconsistent and dubious descriptions and the fact that the evidence the prosecution had was merely circumstantial, made it impossible to prove a given suspect was guilty.

Looking back on the Night Marauder case a century after it went cold, one can point out signature behaviors as indicators that could help build a modern psychological profile for the perpetrator of the crimes. Despite the fact that formal criminal profiling did not come into play until the development of the Crime Classification Manual (CCM) by the FBI in 1978, the basic investigative strategies that build into modern profiling were already in use in the 1920s.

In his book Serial Crime Theoretical and Practical Issues in Behavioral Profiling, Wayne Petherick outlines what a criminal profiler would conclude if the Night Marauder were at work today. The fact that the attacks include a sexual assault or attempted assault can be attributed to a fetish motive for dominance over the woman. This pattern of behavior is then repeated again and again until the Night Marauder’s behaviors become more practiced as he masters his craft. In the cases where the victims call out for help and a man comes to their rescue, the Night Marauder typically responds by fleeing, sometimes with parting shots from his gun. However, if the Marauder catches the man unaware like he does with his female victims, he will respond either by immediately shooting the man or threatening that he will kill them both if they fight back. This shows the detective that his motive is not to kill his victims. The murder is not the Marauder’s end-goal, rather it is a tactic he will take if he faces resistance. From this, the detective can theorize that the perpetrator does not gain pleasure from the murder as much as he does from the terror that he inflicts.  Finally, in more than one case, the Night Marauder takes a methodical approach to the crime by casing the victim’s home and hiding firearms and light sources before attacking. This tells the detective that the Night Marauder is an organized criminal who commits his crimes after a great deal of premeditation and planning, which implies a methodical nature. This hypothesis is further evidenced by the Marauder’s cool-down pattern sometimes remaining inactive for months. It could be theorized that the Marauder simply leaves the area during these times but given the patterns of his crimes during his active months being so close together, it is more likely that he had a practical reason for such long respites. With the information that we currently have, the detective may theorize that the Marauder took advantage of summer heat when windows and doors would be left open during the night. Winter attacks were rare but usually more deadly.

The fact that the crimes all happen within a relatively small area tells the detective that the Night Marauder is either a young man or is simply inexperienced as a criminal. This is because older, more experienced criminals often know how the police investigate their crimes and will try to throw them off their trail by committing their crimes further away from home than they usually go.

To Summarize, the modern detective’s criminal profile of the Marauder includes: a fetish motive for serial rape that stems from the need to terrorize and dominate his victims, the willingness to kill but not a fetishistic need to, a fixation on women as his victims, and that he is likely a young man with a methodical nature. From here, the modern detective will then look for someone who fits this description and who may already have a history of deviant behaviors fitting the crimes. With the advancements in criminal psychology and criminal justice procedures, if the Night Marauder had begun his attacks in 2019 rather than 1919, it is likely that his criminal career would have very quickly ended.

Published by Nancy Locklin

I am a professor of history at Maryville College in east Tennessee.

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